Selective praise as a form of workplace marginalization

Have you ever worked in an organization where some people receive lavish praise from higher ups for the most modest of achievements, while others do remarkable things but receive, at best, an obligatory nod from the folks in charge?

This happens a lot in highly factionalized workplaces, especially when a core group enjoys considerable power and tends to marginalize those not in their circle. It’s a way of affirming who and what “counts” in the eyes of the Powers That Be. When favoritism and clique membership are baked into an organization’s culture, those on the outside will be reminded of their place when their good work is greeted by silence or a grudging acknowledgment.

Furthermore, especially in fields or professions where many assessments are subjective, it’s easy to make up reasons why some work is worthy of recognition and other work is not. Smart, manipulative individuals in leadership positions can raise such rationalizations to an art form.

In many cases, the outsiders may not be in danger of losing their jobs, but they will have to derive more of their work satisfaction from within, rather than wait for kudos that are unlikely to come their way. This hardly ranks among the greatest of workplace injustices, but it’s a needless way of lowering overall employee morale. It also can plant the seeds for more serious worker mistreatment if things start to turn sour within the organization.

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4 responses

  1. All true. What the person on the outside might want to keep in mind is that they cannot have a clique unless somebody is on the outside. Just because they have assigned you that designation doesn’t reflect on who you are. In fact, as time goes by you may see the fact that you’re not “one of them” as high praise indeed.

  2. “Furthermore, especially in fields or professions where many assessments are subjective, it’s easy to make up reasons why some work is worthy of recognition and other work is not. Smart, manipulative individuals in leadership positions can raise such rationalizations to an art form.”

    Same dynamics happen for corrective measures, disciplinary actions, etc. Some people get nailed to the wall, while others might get a tap on the hand or nothing at all. Just today I heard an administrator comment on how a front line staff had denied a wrongdoing, when there were two witnesses. Yes, on the surface that sounds like the wrong thing to do, but it is more complicated than that. Plus, when she was telling me this, I thought about the many, many times I’ve observed her ‘spins’ on events, in order to protect herself and other administrators or ‘chosen’ staff.

    What amazes (and sometimes baffles) me is just how blatantly obvious this all is and how it is accepted as par for the course. I know it boils down to who is in the power position, but it’s still – at times – a challenge to understand how people have accepted and justified it.

  3. Some groups are automatically assigned to the in group by society, beauracray and all levels of politic. For example medical doctors who are given the utmost trust and free range because they understand the human body. Try looking up problems amongst doctors and it is invariably the other way round, doctors commenting on others’ problems. Yet one of the main insurance companies in Australia has a nice little rort set up with doctors getting extra money for favourable reports. All ‘legal’ of course and not many with the resources to object, especially when they are victims of a crime fighting a case.

  4. Thanks for this. I had to catch up on Leader Member Exchange (LMX) theory recently, and became more aware of In group/Out Group dynamics, as a means of leadership control. Think that’s what STORMY, DR and FIONAGLEADLE are touching on?

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